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Friday, March 24, 2023

Students’ Safety in the Time of a Pandemic: 5 Things the World Can Learn from Singapore

If there’s one country that can be considered an exemplar for a swift and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s Singapore. Though COVID-19 cases peaked at around August of 2020, Singapore was eventually able to flatten the curve in the succeeding months and prevent another spike in infection cases. In April of 2021, Singapore even overtook New Zealand in a list of top countries to reside in during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are different factors that have contributed to this success story, and one of them is the Singaporean government’s keen attention to the welfare of its youth.

Although some COVID-19 cases reported in Singapore involved schoolchildren, the country’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has declared that there is no evidence yet of community transmissions in schools. Schools and institutes of higher learning in Singapore have not had to close down for extended periods, unlike their contemporaries elsewhere in the world. This can be attributed to the stringent health measures undertaken by the country for the protection of students, teachers, school staff, and others involved in the education sector. To learn more about what Singapore has gotten right, here’s a list of five initiatives for health and safety that have been implemented in local and international secondary schools in Singapore.

Creating a Strong COVID-19 Screening System for Students, Teachers, and School Staff

One preventive measure that Singapore’s education sector has taken seriously is COVID-19 screening. This ensures that no one who is feeling unwell will enter campus premises and expose others to the virus. It also gives them time to have their symptoms treated as soon as possible.

Along with teachers and school staff, students are required to undergo strict screening for signs of acute respiratory illness. Students aged 13 years and above are required to take COVID-19 tests in the company of their parents. Pupils below the age of 13 who are also experiencing symptoms must consult with a doctor to see if a test is needed. Luckily, COVID-19 tests are subsidized by the Singaporean government, which relieves the worries of parents who would otherwise have to spend a good sum of money for them.

Adopting an Efficient National Contact Tracing System

Singapore also has a national contract tracing system that is used by pupils and their parents. This involves the use of either the TraceTogether app or TraceTogether tokens, both of which are driven by Bluetooth technology. The signal from each TraceTogether device picks up the signals from others like it, and the system sends alerts to other users if someone in their physical network has tested positive for COVID-19.

Thus, in the case that someone in the vicinity has caught COVID-19, both the students and their parents will know to get tested right away. This quick contact tracing response is what allows timely intervention for individual families, as well as further protection for others in the school community.

Implementing a Vaccination Program for Students 12 Years Old and Above

Singapore’s vaccination program has been lauded as one of the fastest and most efficient in Asia, and it should be noted that the scope of the program includes pupils aged 12 years old and up. As of June 2021, vaccination rollout for these young people has already begun.

One of the things that has definitely worked for student safety, as well as the safety of the general community, is the low rate of vaccine hesitancy in Singapore. For the most part, citizens know the benefit of getting inoculated against COVID-19 and preventing severe complications from happening to them. Now that students are being included in the national vaccine rollout, Singapore is closer to achieving herd immunity from the disease.

Opening Schools Only When There Are Stringent Safety Measures in Place

Another point in Singapore’s favor is that the MOE is not haphazard in its oversight of face-to-face classes. All schools that are open follow stringent rules for social distancing and mask wearing. There’s also a rule that fewer than 50 people can be present in lecture or examination settings. Field trips and other large-scale group activities are suspended for the time being.

Of course, this means that students, teachers, and school staff must be extra careful in their interactions with one another. However, by spending at least a little time on campus, students are afforded a sense of normalcy and companionship, which contributes to their emotional and mental well-being.

Advocating Blended Learning and Getting Everyone Involved

The last lesson to be learned from Singapore pertains to the adoption of blended learning, a pedagogy that combines face-to-face and online instruction. This style of education is meant to ensure the continuity of learning even in the current circumstances. Singaporean students and international students alike are encouraged to learn both online and face-to-face, as well as to be more self-determined in their own learning goals.

Knowing that the transition from face-to-face learning to blended learning would be difficult at first, leaders in the education sector have done their best to soften the blow. Schools have provided extra support for students taking their national examinations and for graduates applying to university. Parents are also given multiple free resources by the MOE to facilitate online learning in their homes. Though students will need to spend some time at home for their safety, they can be assured that something is being done to better their education.

Singapore acknowledges the value of its youth sector and the need to preserve the health, safety, and well-being of students. Indeed, the country provides a clear framework for the rest of the world, a model that others can follow when it comes to safeguarding students’ welfare and improving learning conditions amidst a global health crisis. This investment is sure to lead to a better, healthier, and more promising future for the city-state.

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